Funds for Sulu,Tawi-Tawi held ‘hostage’

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The magnificent ‘Tulay’ Mosque in the capital town of Jolo in Sulu province in southern Philippines. PHOTO BY AL JACINTO

The magnificent ‘Tulay’ Mosque in the capital town of Jolo in Sulu province in southern Philippines. PHOTO BY AL JACINTO

ZAMBOANGA CITY: Provincial government employees in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi continue to suffer as banks ran out of cash for salaries and other funds as commercial flights from Zamboanga City to the island-provinces remain suspended for over a month now.

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The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) suspended all flights following attacks by separatist rebels in Zamboanga City on September 9 and three weeks of street battles had killed and wounded over 400 people.

Although commercial flights in Zamboanga to Davao, Manila and Cebu resumed last month, local flights to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi have not resumed, and employees were forced to borrow since the Land Bank of the Philippines was not able to transport monies to the provinces.

Not only employees are affected by the suspension of the flights, but government projects and other development and pro-poor programs are also stalled because the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA)—the share of revenues a local government from the national government – for the provinces cannot be drawn from the bank for lack of funds.

The CAAP cannot lift the suspension of commercial flights to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi without the approval of the Crisis Management Committee (CMC) headed by Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabella Salazar, although she has approved the resumption of other flights to Zamboanga.

Salazar said police and military authorities would recommend to the CMC whether to allow the resumption of flights to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Even ferries from Zamboanga to the two provinces are limited and have severely affected its economy.

The Department of Budget and Management in Zamboanga said the IRA for the two provinces have been released, although the September fund was slightly delayed due to the breakout of violence in Zamboanga.

“Okay na yun IRA for September and October dahil na-release na ang mga ito at wala naman kaming nakukuhang reklamo mula sa mga budget officers. Nasa bangko na kung paano nila ide-deliver ang pera, [The September and October IRA have been released and we aren’t receiving complaints from budget officers. It’s up to the banks how they can deliver the monies]” lawyer Nilda Cemine, DBM’s assistant regional director, told The Manila Times.

Provincial budget officers have largely blamed the suspension of commercial flights to the problems now facing hundreds of employees and contractual workers.

Shirley Macaso, manager ng Land Bank of the Philippines in Zamboanga City, also said the IRA is ready for transport, but CAAP has not lifted the suspension of commercial flights to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

She said they have already talked to the managers of Philippine Air Lines and Cebu Pacific, which regularly fly to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, for a special flight so they can transport the monies, but the CAAP has not given the approval for the flight, not without the go signal from CMC.

Macaso said she also tried talking to the military if it can provide them just one special flight, but was told to wait for any available aircraft. They also tried to charter a plane, but failed to get the needed approval from authorities to fly to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

“Suspended pa rin yun flights for Sulu and Tawi-Tawi at ilang beses na rin kaming humingi ng permiso mula sa Crisis Management Committee and we also talked to the [management]of the Philippine Air Lines and Cebu Pacific, but wala pa rin go signal from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines [Sulu and Tawi-Tawi flights are still suspended and we have asked permission from the Crisis Management committee and we also talked to Philippine Air Lines and Cebu Pacific but there’s still no go signal from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines].”

“And we also tried chartering a plane to bring the money and hindi rin puwedeng lumipad dahil walang [but we can’t fly in since no flights are allowed]flights na allowed sa Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and we talked to the military about giving us a special flight, and their priority is the mission and so we have to wait kung may available aircraft that can be used to transport the money,” Macaso said in a separate interview.

For the meantime, Macaso said they have allowed local government units from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi to withdraw funds in Zamboanga City. But transporting huge amount of money from Zamboanga to the provinces also poses a big risk for budget officers.

“We are really doing everything we could to solve this problem,” she said.

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